The final table is set at the WSOPC Winter Bayou Poker Challenge in New Orleans, but the game is the furthest thing from anybody's mind as the poker world mourns the unexpected death of legend David "Chip" Reese, who died his sleep early on Tuesday morning.
The news hit the tournament floor at Harrah's here in Louisiana early on Day 2 of this three-day event, with rumors and speculation spreading throughout the field before the World Series of Poker's Nolan Dalla (through Barry Greenstein) was able to verify the reports and confirm that the 2006 WSOP H.O.R.S.E. champion and youngest-ever Poker Hall of Fame member had indeed passed away.
It was an announcement that cast a pall over the proceedings, as 50 or so poker players struggled to remain focused on the task at hand when faced with insurmountable evidence of their own mortality. The death of a Hall of Famer, a WSOP bracelet-winner and, at 56, still a relatively young man seemingly the picture of health, suddenly made this event and the thousands of dollars at stake seem a lot less important in the long run.
The show had to go on, obviously, and so with one eye on the newswire and the other on a field comprised in large part of exactly the kind of soft-spoken and deliberate men who would respect Reese the most for his businesslike approach to the game, we continued. The game carried on as the remaining field pushed mortality from their minds, at least for the short term.
Indeed, a few hours following the announcement it was as if nothing at all had happened; while outside, the poker world mourned, the players who remained in contention in this event had work to do. Insensitive as continuing the play may have seemed, nobody was going to suggest that rolling over and giving up would be an acceptable tribute to the man who'd won three WSOP bracelets and was considered by many of his peers the greatest poker player in the world.
Now, however, with nine players remaining and another nine having already been paid for their efforts, as the competitors, dealers, floormen and media retire to wait for tomorrow's final table, the magnitude of Reese's passing starts to sink in. That a 56-year-old man, particularly a person like Reese, a man who seemed by all standards healthy and happy and full of life, could pass away with so little warning in this country and in this era stands as a warning to us all that nobody, not even a poker superstar, is immune to his own mortality and that our lives can be extinguished at any time.
The specifics, of which we'll no doubt learn more as the days and weeks pass, indicate that Reese was taking medication for pneumonia-like symptoms, the likes of which he had reported to his doctor on the night before his death. He did not, contrary to initial reports, admit himself to the hospital. Instead, he passed away at home early on Tuesday morning.
Barry Greenstein speculates that the pneumonia symptoms may be a red herring, pointing to Reese's gastric bypass surgery and his resulting susceptibility to blood clots as one possible factor in his friend's demise.
Regardless of the forensics, the sad fact remains that a middle-aged man in the prime of his life, by all accounts a friendly and generous man with a fearsome talent at the tables and a clinical mind for baseball handicapping, has been taken from the poker community and from the lives of his friends and family (who, led by Doyle Brunson, Todd Brunson, Greenstein and Gus Hansen, have united in expressing their shock and grief) far too soon. He's survived by his teenage children, his friends in Bobby's Room, and, if the forums are any indication, legions of fans who respected his class, his demeanor and his unassuming, all-business approach to his livelihood.
Meanwhile, our final table will play out tomorrow, not "because Chip would have wanted it that way" (although he might have), but because that's what happens. Life goes on, even following this, the first death of a major poker pro since the Moneymaker boom. There's still big money at the tables and the wheels keep turning, as cold as it may seem.
Tomorrow, that means Chris Stull, Rodney Shows, Tim Davenport, Larry Satterwhite, Will Failla, Kenny Milam, Joel Font, Clinton McCollom and Carl Johnson will wake up at least $9,180 richer than when they started play on Monday morning.
It means Tim McCollom, Philip Sparta, Lou Esposito, Bruce MacGregor, Nic Gellepis, Andy Philachack, Leonard Pruzansky, David Fox and Josh Arieh will return to the poker table at Harrah's New Orleans and play down to a champion, with $247,860 up for grabs at the end of the day. One hopes that those players, and all poker players, will take a moment to consider the truly important things in their lives before they return to the felt.
Final Table seating positions and chip counts:
|Seat 1||Tim McCollom||$252,500|
|Seat 2||Philip Sparta||$85,500|
|Seat 3||Lou Esposito||$20,500|
|Seat 4||Bruce MacGregor||$123,500|
|Seat 5||Nic Gellepis||$65,000|
|Seat 6||Andy Philachack||$35,000|
|Seat 7||Leonard Pruzansky||$174,000|
|Seat 8||David Fox||$324,000|
|Seat 9||Josh Arieh||$510,000|